First team football means “a great deal” to Hibs’ Mackie

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Mackie is enjoying life at Hibs (Credit: Luke Barry)

Hibernian left back Sean Mackie admits that first team football is a “massive step up” from Under-20s but playing means a “great deal” to him.

The 20-year-old has seen his first team opportunities increase due to the injury of Lewis Stevenson, including a start in Hibs’ 2-0 defeat at Celtic on Wednesady.

Mackie revealed that playing at this level is “less about performance” and more about getting a win.

“It means a great deal to me, obviously it takes time and I just had to keep working hard in the under 20’s and see what happened after that,” he said.

“I’ve had a little bit of a break and I feel like I have done well recently when given the chance”

“It is a massive step up from the under 20’s into the first team as you would expect. But I have found that at this level it is less about performance and almost all about getting the three points, by whatever means necessary.

“It is definitely better to put in a good performance as well but the only essential to come away from the match day with the win.”

 

Despite the uncertainty around the club’s manager, Mackie is enjoying his time at Hibs and says everyone must focus solely on what happens on the pitch.

“Honestly I am trying to think about it [the lack of manager] as little as possible,” he said.

“Obviously you are going to think about it from time to time but it is important that my main focus always is playing football.

“If you are involved as a player you just need to perform – that’s your job. At the end of the day we can’t really influence what is happening off the field.”

“There’s a lot of experienced players in the squad that I can go to for advice about anything, whether it is football related or not. Having guys like that around always helps in times like this.”

Hibernian host Raith Rovers tomorrow in the Scottish Cup, and concedes most of the pressure is on the Edinburgh side.

“I think most of the pressure is put on by ourselves because we know exactly what needs to be done in order to get the result – it is just a case of going out and doing it on Saturday [tomorrow].

“It is ideal being drawn at home because no matter what the game is like the fans will have our back. Hopefully we get the result we want and can take that onto the next league game.”

Hearts boss taking Auchinleck cup tie “very seriously”

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Levein is aware of Auchinleck’s threat (Credit: Luke Barry)

Heart of Midlothian Craig Levein has insisted he’s taking Sunday’s Scottish Cup fifth round tie against Auchinlek Talbot “very seriously.”

Auchinleck play in the junior leagues whilst Hearts are a Scottish Premiership side, but Levein was quick to dismiss talk that Auchinleck would be an easy opponent and insisted he’s treating the game like any other.

“It is a cup competition – only one of three major trophies available in this country – so of course we are taking it very seriously,” he said.

“I am looking forward to it. It is an unusual match to be pitched against a team in junior football. Having played in junior football myself I know that there is a lot of good players at that level.”

Hearts and Auchinleck have history, with the two clubs meeting in the same competition in 2012. Auchinleck won that tie 1-0, and Levein is more than aware that history could repeat itself.

 “I think that is exactly how the game could pan out if we do not move the ball quickly enough,” he commented.

“We are a level above where they are at the moment. But they are a team that find a way to win week in, week out and that is dangerous.

“Obviously there is no pressure on Auchinleck to get anything out of this game so perhaps that could be an advantage for them, but I have been to see their match last week and I know how they play so we don’t have any excuses to not be prepared for Sunday.”

Ikpeazu keen to make up for “lost time”

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Ikpeazu is delighted to get back playing after a five month injury (Credit: Luke Barry)

Heart of Midlothian striker Uche Ikpeazu is keen to make up “for lost time” after returning from a foot injury against Livingston on Wednesday night.

Ahead of Hearts’ Scottish Cup fifth round tie against Auchinleck Talbot, Ikpeazu admitted he is “focusing on having a good end to the season” after missing the last five months.

“As a footballer, nobody wants to be injured, but unfortunately it is part and parcel and we have had a few of them this season,” he said.

“It’s been tough but I’ve worked really hard, now I am focused on having a good end to the season and making up for lost time.”

“I’ve had a few operations in my time and obviously after it, the foot can take a lot of time to heal and even then it may not be the same. It is a testament to the hard work and the fantastic facilities at Hearts that have helped me make a strong recovery.”

 

Ikpeazu’s injury was one of several for Hearts this season, with defenders Christophe Berra and John Souttar also missing several months with their own woes.

“We had so many injuries that happened all of a sudden last year, we were all working together to get fit and encourage each other on a day to day basis. We are all back now and it helped that I wasn’t alone.

“It was frustrating being on the sidelines and seeing the team struggle, especially with the great start we had to the season.

“I still maintain that if we kept everyone fit we could be right up there, even without all our players we are still not far off and now it is about making the best of the end of the season.”

Ikpeazu admitted that the supporters “have been massive” to him during his time out, and helped keep him motivated.

“Coming on and hearing the cheers was really good and it motivates me. I know the best is yet to come.

“The fans have been massive to me, even when I was injured. A couple of days of my operation I was receiving messages saying they can’t wait to have me back, that means so much and it motivated me even more to get back quicker.”

Ritchie: Ireland “not unbeatable”

 

 

Scotland flanker Jamie Ritchie admitted Ireland will be a “tough” test for Scotland but aren’t “unbeatable” in tomorrow’s Six Nations clash at BT Murrayfield

Ritchie made his Six Nations debut in last week’s 33-20 victory over Italy and keeps his place as Scotland look to keep up their unbeaten record at home.

Ireland, the second best team in the world rankings, will pose a “different challenge” than Italy did, but Ritchie argues their defeat at home to England last weekend fills Scotland with great confidence.

“On paper they [Ireland] are the second-best team in the world. It is a different challenge and it’s going to be a tough one but as we saw at the weekend, they are not unbeatable,” Ritchie said.

“We will look at that game this week and there are opportunities we’ll look to exploit.

“We are very confident. It is likely that the result on Saturday will be based on our defence. If we can get the physicality right, we saw last weekend from the English that they can be put under pressure.”

The 22-year-old has been hailed as one of the stand-out performers in Scotland’s 33-20 win over Italy last weekend in a result that saw them go top of the table.

“We’re really glad we got the win [against Italy] and it builds us up well for the week coming up.”

He admits it was “special” to make his debut for Scotland and hopes he can produce another strong performance against Ireland.

“It was awesome,” he said.

“I had to prepare for this slightly differently than how I prepared for the Autumn tests, but I’m so pleased we could get the win on Saturday and hopefully it will build us up well for the week ahead.

“There’s so much more pressure in the build-up to these games and a lot more media hype surrounding it. For me it almost seemed like a bigger deal, not to downplay the other competitions but this is the Six Nations, it’s the big time.

“I was chuffed, throughout the game I was just trying to get involved wherever I could. Similar to any game really, you always want to influence the match and play well. It was a fantastic experience and I am happy we got the win.”

Tributes pour in after body identified as Emiliano Sala

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The footballing world pays tribute to Cardiff City striker Emiliano Sala (Credit: Thibault Camus / AP)

The world has paid tribute to Emiliano Sala as the body that was pulled from the plane wreck on Monday was identified as the Argentine striker.

Sala had signed for Cardiff City last month but his place was reported missing over the English Channel on 21st January.

Since the confirmation, the footballing community has given their respects and prayers for Sala, led by his sister Romina.

His former club Nantes have since retired the #9 shirt he wore for the club.

Among those to pay tribute to the 28-year-old were fellow Argentinian striker Sergio Aguero, PSG’s Kylian Mbappe and England legend Wayne Rooney.

 

Blair has “no concern” about Scotland’s defensive issues

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Blair isn’t worried about conceding late on last weekend (Credit: Bryce Donaldson)

Scotland Rugby assistant coach Mike Blair isn’t concerned about Scotland’s defensive issues despite conceding three late tries in their Six Nations victory over Italy last weekend.

Scotland beat Italy 33-20 at BT Murrayfield with tries from Blair Kinghorn, Stuart Hogg and Chris Harris helping them to the top of the table, but were 33-3 up with 10 minutes to go.

Blair admitted that Scotland made “poor” defensive decisions, but the coaching staff will leave “no stone unturned” as they prepare to host Ireland tomorrow.

“We were 33-3 up against the Italians but that last 15 minutes really hit home that if we do not get things right that teams will expose you,” he said.

“There were a few poor decisions in defence, perhaps a lack of energy, [which] meant that it was certainly a disappointing finish to the game. We are aware of that, we are aware of where our standards need to be to avoid that happening in other games.

“There is no concern. We have got a very hardworking coaching team who leave no stone unturned.

“We have conceded a few soft tries but that is nothing to do with our system. We just need to make sure the players are making smart decisions under pressure.”

 

 

Blair Kinghorn was one of the stand-out performers in last weekend’s victory, becoming the first Scottish player in history to score a hat-trick of tries.

Blair was quick to praise Kinghorn’s efforts even though he misses out on a starting spot against Ireland tomorrow.

“There’s not many who will doubt his ability after Saturday [match against Italy] and I think Blair has something like 80 or so games for his club Edinburgh already which, for a 22-year-old is crazy numbers,” Blair said.

“He’s building up a lot of experience early on in his career, obviously he’s a great talent, the height he’s got and the speed that he’s got on top of the superb handling ability that he has as well.

“We are all delighted with him, he is gaining experience all the time and already looks comfortable at international level already.”

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